cover image David & Della

David & Della

Paul Zindel. HarperCollins Publishers, $14 (167pp) ISBN 978-0-06-023353-2

Still devastated by his break-up with a suicidal girlfriend, teenage playwright David Mahooley suffers from a bad case of writer's block. A torrent of inspiration is set loose, however, from the moment fast-talking, flamboyant Della Jones storms into David's life. Della's ``coaching methods'' range from massage therapy to plant collecting to lessons in ``mutual grooming.'' Her colorful confessions about a previous relationship eventually become the subject matter of David's newest masterpiece. While the narratives of Zindel's earlier novels ( The Pigman ; Confessions of a Teenage Baboon ) appear nearly effortless, the plotting of this tale of teenage infatuation set in New York City is somewhat contrived. Gratingly eccentric characters and their outlandish stunts (which include an experiment in ``gender bending'') upstage the story's central conflicts. Ultimately, the blossoming romance between a self-proclaimed dork and a 16-year-old ex-actress/teen mother/ borderline alcoholic is too artificial to touch hearts. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)